21 November 2017
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Rebuked lawyer to face Court of 3 Judges

Straits Times
26 Oct 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A lawyer whose cross-examination of a molestation victim in 2015 drew a denunciation by the trial judge will have to face the Court of Three Judges for professional misconduct.

A disciplinary tribunal, holding a probe following a complaint by the Attorney-General, found Mr Edmund Wong Sin Yee's actions to have crossed the line and amounted to "grossly improper conduct" under the Legal Profession Act.

The Court of Three Judges is the highest body to discipline lawyers and has powers to suspend, sack or acquit a lawyer, among other things. The Attorney-General had taken issue with Mr Wong's questioning of the victim during the August 2015 trial of Xu Jiadong for intentionally brushing his forearm against the woman's breasts.

Mr Wong, as the defence lawyer, was accused of cross-examining the victim in a dishonourable manner by, among other things, asking her to stand up to see how attractive she was, and using scandalous and inappropriate language.

"By all indications, (Mr Wong) would have carried on and perhaps increased the level of intimidation and insult - as indicated by his comment that he was going to ask 'even more insulting questions later on' - if he had not been stopped by the district judge," said the tribunal, comprising Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming and Mr Leong Hee Tean, in its report issued on Oct 11.

At the hearings in March, the Law Society, represented by lawyers Chandra Mohan and Audrey Lim, called the deputy public prosecutor in the 2015 case. Mr Kong Kuek Foo testified the victim was "visibly distressed" by Mr Wong's cross-examination.

Mr Wong, defended by lawyers Eugene Thuraisingam and Suang Wijaya, declined to cross-examine Mr Kong and argued he had no case to answer.

He also declined to give evidence, a move which the tribunal said did him no favour as he did not use the opportunity to clarify the manner and motivation of his cross-examination style, "material questions in these proceedings", it said.

The tribunal said the need to explain is even more compelling when the concerns are raised by the Attorney-General and the district judge, who have no interest other than to protect the profession by ensuring high standards of conduct are observed at all times.

During follow-up submissions for the case last year, the judge had raised the matter of Mr Wong's cross-examination and had given him a chance to explain himself.

Mr Wong denied he had meant to insult the victim by his cross-examination. In his subsequent grounds of decision, the judge denounced Mr Wong's conduct.

The tribunal found after examining the notes of evidence of the case and the relevant testimony that Mr Wong's offensive line of questioning was compounded by his focus on the victim's physical attributes in his exchange with the judge.

It ruled Mr Wong should have been mindful of his language at all times, and it was not an excuse to suggest the district judge should have sent out the witness prior to the exchange.

The tribunal warned that "an unfettered approach (to questioning) will bring odium to our profession".

"The level of mindfulness and restraint that an advocate should exercise is more exacting in situations where 'victim blaming' may arise, particularly in cases of sexual offences," added the tribunal.

Mr Wong was ordered to pay $5,000 in costs to the Law Society.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.